Giamatti | You Know Him, You Just Don't Know You Know Him...Yet.
an emily blunt interview
Giamatti is intensely ah-dorable! He's one of those ubiquitous actors, yet no
one seems to recognize the name. Well no longer
finally got a bonifide award winning lead role that showcases his nature abilities
and the press folk are taking note. In HBO Films' American
Splendor he plays Harvey
Pekar. Harvey's a writer who makes notes, blunt observations on life, and
then has them illustrated in a kind of anti-comic book comic book of the same
name (read the review for all da info).
been in my short list of five faves since I saw him as Jimmy Tomorrow in a production
of my favorite play, 'The Iceman Cometh' (O'Neill). A performance so moving I
ruined my make-up with tears of sadness, and joy, at seeing the character delivered
so triumphantly (I'm a goon I know
some people dig sports I dig theater okay?).
projects are usually exceptional choices; Storytelling,
Confidence, The Truman Show, Man
on the Moon etc etc. He even played an Orangutan in Tim Burton's Planet
of the Apes- stealing screen time from Marky Mark! So he's got a sense
blends into whatever he does and brings a
realness to the guy he's
playing. Yes, even the ape!
becoming like my coveted favorite yummy the rice krispie treat
those for years till the elves had to go and mass produce them in convenient single
serving packs. Now they are everywhere like Paul. Wait. With Giamatti that's a
good thing. This guy is taaalllleeennnttted! After years of "being there"
with the attention American Splendor is getting he should be thrilled to
sat down to chat about the film and stuff recently.
So what was it like to do a cartoon character based on a real guy?
I never thought of him as so much a comic book character- I just thought of him
as a the real guy. So it was not the comic book part of it I looked at. It didn't
get weird or anything like that. I just thought of him as "a guy."
What was it like having the man you are playing in the film and around the set?
The idea was they wanted him in it. When I got the script it was indicted there
would be documentary sequences. it was always there
whether or not they thought
the whole way through if it didn't work I don't know what they would do- I mean
they might have taken it out if he sucked or something like that [actually it
sounded like he said "socks" hehehehe-I adore this guy].
How do you like the Harvey and Joyce being in the film - documentary style?
I think it works really well! It could have sort have blown up and I think the
fact that they are in it is what makes it most interesting- otherwise it would
be more a standard bio pic I mean not so much so- but it would still have more
of the elements of a straightforward bio.
Is it higher pressure to have the guy you're playing there? I mean you are actually
sitting behind him -as him-in a part of the film! Does it make you nervous at
It does! At first it did. When I first met them all they were interested to see
how uncomfortable I was - or how interested I would be in doing that. It's definitely
intimidating but in some ways it actually made easier because it was a clear-cut
task. This is what we want you to do and this is what we want you to be like.
Emily: Did you find yourself shifting in the character as you sat with
Paul:Actually yeah. I tried not to watch him too much now- because
in a lot of ways he different then the Harvey I play. But yeah! There were a lot
of things I'd notice
something he did physically that day and I wanted to
use that-or the way he said something. There were phrases he'd use that I'd wished
I'd used in the movie, but I just forgot! He has a lot of really funny things
Was the script improv'd then?
No. I mean there were things I wish I had have brought in. I remembered
thinking how can I get this in. None of it was improving - well except for the
I read a couple of the comic books when I was in college. That's all. Not all
of them. I didn't do anything in college but watch David Letterman [laughter].
So I knew who Pekar was. I saw [him] every time he was on. The last one is interesting
explosive and stuff like that. But Harvey is actually kind of laughing through
the whole thing. I mean having a really good time
I suppose it's a lot uglier
for Letterman then it was for Harvey. He just sort of over the whole thing. That
was the one bit Letterman wouldn't release - for whatever reason. At first they
panicked about not having that. But now they like the way it ended up. With all
the real Letterman footage by that point a recreation was somewhat unexpected.
I felt like it kept the story more with the fictitious guy, which they kind of
liked at that point.
So know you know Harvey. Is what we see in the film the real him or is it more
of a carictiture?
Paul: He has a shtick definitely. He's a kind of performer.
There's definitely a persona that he's created. And he's put it on and off in
his public life too. He does have a shtick to some extent. He knows how people
expect him to behave. But he's older now and a lot more mellowed out then he use
Do you relate to him?
laughter] I don't know if I so much relate to him as I admire him. You can idealize
that. A guy who willfully made himself in to this pariah kind of thing. Certainly
there's something I delight in - I fancy in there.
What would a comic about you be like?
Boring. [laughter] Filtered through him it's not because he's not really boring.
I'm not that interesting
that's why I play other people I guess [laughter
- nervous tell-tale laughter].
Would you say he's a popular "underground" cartoon/writer?
Sometimes it's just the fact that it's underground - that's what makes people
want it. A lot of times that's enough for people. At the time he started doing
them I guess he was innovative in comic book terms
the autobiographical thing
the self-reveling thing. And a lot of that kind of stuff was going on in other
parts of the art world and stuff. Like the "Living Theater!" They were
running around naked talking about having sex with their mother up on stage [laughter-ish].
There was a lot of that kind of stuff going on. He was part of a culture moment
and, I guess ahead of his time too. His earlier stuff is much more kind of ugly
and dark - a lot more twisted sexual stuff. A lot of the early ones he never even
Why'd you want to be involved? When did you get interested in telling the story?
It was when I read the script it was the most interesting! I thought the way they
were going to try and tell the story was interesting and aside from the documentary
and the cartoon stuff it seemed like they were avoiding the bio thing - it just
seemed to be a good movie about an artist. I mean a movie about an artist that
it wasn't cheesy, or sentimental or boring. But I remembered him from Letterman
and thought, "That would be a very interesting guy to play."
I have to tell you - you actually made me cry in Iceman
Cometh [he played Jimmy Tomorrow on Broadway a few years back in a 4 ½
hour version of O'Neill's
Ohhhahahahoahedahe! Thanks!!! Uhhhha [nervous laughter absorbing the compliment].
[this guy is simply precious - the really talented ones always are!] Is there
anything acting-wise that you haven't done yet -that you long to do?
You mean like a genre?
No I like all these things. I find strictly comedic things - broad comic things
the hardest thing to do actually. I do it a lot and its fun- but I find it hard.
I don't find it so rewarding because I find it so hard! I prefer to do other things.
I feel more comfortable doing roles like this where the humor is not right on
the surface. While I was acting you can forget it's suppose to be funny. You know?
Comedy on film is interesting to do. It's easier if you will.
You mean because you can't hear a laugh - a reaction - and be "aware"
of your goal?
You don't hear laughter - which is good so you can forget it's suppose to be funny.
Broad comedy is really hard to do on film.
So do you have a goal in your career?
[laughter] The goal is financial security and permanent time off basically! I
don't mind having a lot of down time - I'm pretty lazy actually. I'm lucky I 've
worked pretty steadily. That I've managed to do that.
Do you miss the stage?
For along time it's all I did. I regret not doing it as much these days. I feel
I've gotten kind of soft not doing the stage stuff. In terms of being a better
actor it's really important. I did 'Iceman' for a while. Last fall I did a play
with Al Pacino called "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" Did you see
No. I haven't been to New York properly in two years.
It was a great experience
but it wasn't what 'Iceman Cometh' was [big smile]
which kind of spoiled me for plays in a lot of ways. We did seven a week- you
just couldn't ask someone to do eight a week of Iceman - that Iceman. And
especially asking the guy who played Hickey to do eight
performances - it's just crazy. It was amazingly grueling
we had one to show
day were we had basically a half an hour between shows! It was on a rate stage
so for all the people who had to be asleep in the bar all the time? Everybody's
back was all screwed up. People were getting shin splints and bursitis all kinds
of ailments. I was weird how physically intense it was. It's an emotionally grueling
play too. It took a while to come away. I missed it a lot. Everybody fell apart
after- a couple guys got divorced afterwards; I had horrible acid reflux afterwards.
Godfrey was 75 years old and amazing - one night I thought he died on stage!
He fell asleep and I couldn't wake him! We had lines coming up I really thought
he was dead. I thought he died of a heart attack.
Yeah - yes
. man. He did it for a year or something-that play-amazing stamina.
He came over London with the production.
Emily: So you're in Newsweek
with this film- how's that feel?
I feel a little chilly really.
Chilly? [laughter] No silly ! [his delightful pronunciations actually got
me and I misunderstood him
] It's nice! It's a very nice flattering thing.
It's a great job- I don't know if I think of it as art.
Are you going to frame it?
[laughter] No I haven't gotten it framed
[that adorable shy giggle
surfaces again] My mother will probably want the plaque version of it though to
stick up on the wall or something [laughter]. It's great for the movie - it got
a really great review!
Emily: Must be nice to be getting all this recognition.
Paul: Yes. It exceeded all my expectations! It was a TV movie. So I figured,
" Maybe it would make it to TV some day." Everything is just gravy.
How much better and can get for this? I don't know It went so much further then
It's very theatrical - personal.
It's a lot like theater in many ways. The physical part too. It was very emotionally
involving. Those people are very nice people.
It must have been liberating to have a character [Harvey Pekar] with such a great
wit - the reviews label him as kind of a misanthrope. Knowing the guy as you do
what do you think of that?
Yeah, It was liberating. It wasn't a drag. I don't think of him as a misanthrope
either. I don't think Harvey [Pekar] doesn't like people. He actually really likes
people. He really curious about everything. He suddenly focuses on someone and
really gets into his or her life story.
Emily: Did you have you spent
a lot of time with Harvey?
really. He showed up basically for the craft services tray [laughter]. He was
more into the process of making a movie- he talked with the grips and electricians.
He was around a fair amount. He's a character! It was actually great to have him
Emily: Did he ever comment on the script with you?
actually there was one scene- the relationship between him and Joyce is
for sort of comic effect and there was one scene where he didn't like it. I was
yelling at "Joyce" and he said, "That was really good - but I would
have never had the balls to talk to my wife like that. I'm too fuckin' scared
of my wife. They changed the dynamic between them for that comic effect. They
have a very different relationship. It's fairly accurately shown- these are people
that don't have time for romance. Joyce said when she first met him- literally
first met him- she said, "I liked what he was selling, He liked what I was
selling, so we figured' what the hell.'"
the hell indeed. Pekar and Brabner have outlasted folks that court for years before
taking the plunge into marital bliss. I think it's wild. I also dig this film
and couldn't be happier for Mr. Giamatti's spotlight. See this wonderful film
immediately. That's a direct order Blunterettes. Kinda...